x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Azzam's rigging is the first thing to investigate

One has to wonder if the high-tech innovations were the cause of Azzam dismasting.

When Azzam's mast snapped in Saturday night's storm in the Mediterranean, my yacht sailed happily through the same conditions without a problem.

Unlike the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, I had not splashed out several million dollars on a new boat with revolutionary new rigging technology.

No, my boat was one 53,793 entries into The Game, a virtual version of the Volvo Ocean Race where ordinary mortals like me can helm their own Volvo 70 on a computer screen.

One has to wonder if the high-tech innovations were the cause of the problem.

Instead of using thick metal wiring for the rigging, the designers opted for ultra-thin carbon fibre cords. This reduced the drag of the boat dramatically, but I wonder whether it came at the cost of more fragility?

If these wires snaps, bang goes the mast. We still do not know what caused Azzam's misfortune, but the first thing to investigate would be the rigging.

The sails deliver the yacht's phenomenal power through the mast, but it is not the mast itself that takes the strain. It is the rigging, which absorb the pressure.

Judging by the size and bright red colour of the wind arrows on my computerised chart, I can just imagine the conditions on board Azzam on Saturday night.

In the pitch dark, powering towards Gibraltar at 20 knots in a near gale, the boat would have been rising up three metre swell before slamming into the next wall of water with a sickening regularity.

On The Game, I have been offered the opportunity to pay $100 of real money for a virtual "heavy spinnaker" for a leg of the race. Unfortunately for Mr Volvo, I have never been persuaded to get my wallet out for such things. Then again, I don't have a hope of winning either.


Tom Ashby is Vice Commodore of Abu Dhabi Sailing Club and Business Editor of The National